Johnny Joyce
Johnny Joyce

I have a new slogan for my hometown. "There's a lot to laugh about in Lowell." ... OK, so maybe that needs a little work, but the point is, comedy is making a comeback in canal city. And the effort is being led by a guy who's running for selectman in Dracut. (Not a joke.)

Johnny Joyce, named the funniest comedian in 2010 by the Boston Herald (hey, we own them now, so I can use their name), has headlined at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun and has been making jokes professionally for 23 years now. These days, he books comedy nights, fundraisers, private parties and other special events through his website, bostonsbestcomedians.com.

Joyce books comedy everywhere from A -- A-Brews in Dracut, where he just hosted the second annual A-Brews Comedy Contest (more on that later) to Z -- the Zorba Room at the legendary Olympia Restaurant in Lowell.

But other Lowell restaurants have also given comedy a chance, including Cavaleiro's (they hosted Christine Hurley, one of Boston's hottest comedians, last year), and Mill City BBQ on Gorham Street (if you haven't tried it, what are you waiting for?).

Elsewhere, Princeton Station hosts the occasional show (Lenny Clarke played there last year), and The Establishment (formerly Aprile's European) (formerly Bainbridge's) recently hosted its first comedy night with Vinnie Favorito, who's hoping to make that venue a more regular comedy gig.


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(Yes, I'm aware the Establishment and the Princeton are in Chelmsford. But it's North Chelmsford. Might as well be Lowell, am I right, folks in East, South and West Chelmsford?)

But back to Joyce and www.bostonsbest comedians.com. They have a date coming up this Saturday, April 14, at the Zorba Room on Market Street featuring Boston standup Frank Santorelli. You may know him as Georgie from "The Sopranos."

"That was pretty big," Santorelli says. "I was in 17 episodes and in 12 of them, I got the (crap) kicked out of me."

So, yeah, you may hear a four-letter word or two Saturday night. Shocking!

Though born in Ohio, Santorelli calls himself a Boston comic. ("It's tough trying to be a comedian in Cleveland," he says.) He came to Boston in the 1980s, when comedy was king, and worked with Boston legends like Lenny Clarke, Steve Sweeney, Don Gavin and Tony V., back in the days when there was a comedy club on every other street corner in Boston and comics would do 6-10 standup gigs a night.

And though he has headlined around the country, his home base these days is Giggles, a comedy club inside Prince Pizzeria -- "the Leaning Tower of Pizza" -- in Saugus.

Now, at age 60, he says he mostly plays New England, from Bangor to Connecticut and everything in between.

Interesting fact: Santorelli has a Lowell connection. Back in the '80s, he won "Star Search." And who hosted "Star Search" but none other than Lowell's own Ed McMahon? (Not a joke.)

So what can you expect from Saturday's headliner?

"My comedy is just to have fun," Santorelli says. "I don't do political stuff. I just try to make people laugh. I got sound effects, impressions, stories. I got it all. It's a mishmash of all the styles of comedy in one 45-minute set. My friends say my nickname should be 'the Monster Truck of Standup Comedy.'"

Santorelli says he's happy that comedy is making a comeback, and not just because it gets the bills paid. He blames the end of Boston's golden comedy age on high prices and oversaturation.

"There were a lot of reasons, but drink prices and the price of parking didn't help," he says. "These places didn't realize these were average joes coming to get a few laughs, and they were charging them 10 bucks for a Bud."

But Santorelli, now a resident of Hampton, N.H., sees the area as a possible hotbed for a laugh-riot renaissance, and he's happy to still call New England home.

"I came here on a whim and worked all of the clubs and slowly worked my way up to being a headliner, and that's where I am now," he says.

And where he'll be Saturday is the Zorba Room with Joyce and two other local comedians -- Sandy Summers of Dunstable and Matt Landry of Lowell, the winner of the second annual A-Brews Comedy Contest. (Told you we'd be circling back to that.) Tickets are $20 and you can get them at bostonsbestcomedians.com, ZorbaMusicHall.com, or at the door. The jokes start flying at 8:30 p.m.

If you can't make it Saturday, join Joyce, Landry and Summers on April 21 at Scola's in Dracut, where they'll join headliner Mike Donovan.

Keep supporting local comedy.

Dan Phelps' email address is dphelps@lowellsun.com.